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DEALING WITH A DEADLOCK : Gorbachev Concessions Real, but There Still Is Time to Act

October 19, 1986|Roy Medvedev | Roy Medvedev is a Soviet historian whose works have been published in the West.

MOSCOW — Speaking on the last day of the Reykjavik meeting, both President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev described it as frank, useful and even friendly. However, Reagan could hardly conceal his fatigue and embarrassment and his arguments were not very convincing.

On the other hand, Gorbachev did not hide his annoyance.

It needs to be said plainly--an important and difficult meeting in Iceland has ended in failure and, as a result, the Soviet Union lost, the United States lost and the whole world lost. There is no basis for saying that it was a disaster or defeat.

The situation in the world did not become any better but it did not become any worse than it was before this summit. And the failure could be useful if the reasons for it were carefully analyzed.

The result of Reykjavik did not mark the beginning of a new era of detente, but this outcome must not be used to increase confrontation. The meeting was but one act in the long drama--which has had more than a few miscues--of cooperation and rivalry between our two countries.

It's necessary to keep looking for an acceptable solution. There is still time to act, even though time is running short.

The announcement of the meeting in Reykjavik came as a great surprise. It's hard to say of an unexpected event that it "did not justify the hopes which were placed in it."

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger noted recently that meetings of the leaders of the Soviet Union and the United States should be very well prepared in advance by experts and ministers so the leaders' main task would be to ratify agreements already worked out. But this cannot be applied as a general rule. Experts are in need of political direction, because they often show unnecessary pettiness and professional narrowness. Not every President of the United States had such a skillful assistant as Kissinger and such a weak partner as former Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev, who could not say even a simple greeting without the presence of advisers.

National leaders can have a variety of meetings--working sessions, urgent sessions and even secret sessions--without transferring the responsibility for many important talks to their assistants. Because of this, it would be unfair to declare that the meeting in Reykjavik was doomed to failure.

It is also strange to accuse Reagan of coming to Iceland with "empty hands and empty pockets," as Gorbachev said. It was not Reagan who initiated the meeting--he only agreed, but not without doubts and hesitation, to listen to new Soviet suggestions and it was not necessary for him to fill his picket with new American suggestions.

From Gorbachev's speeches we learned that Soviet suggestions were really constructive. They included big concessions in all spheres of nuclear weapons and verification, which the Soviet Union did not want to accept three years ago or even last summer. The Soviet proposals created the possibility of compromise and even repeated many previous American positions, such as "zero option." But concessions should be mutual, and that's why Gorbachev demanded that the United States live within the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty for another 10 years and limit the Strategic Defense Initiative to laboratory research. Basically, the Soviet offer was not an equal exchange of concessions but seemed more beneficial for the United States and especially for Europe.

By proposing full and rapid reductions of arsenals of dangerous arms already in existence and moving far toward recent American suggestions, the Soviet Union wanted to preserve the ABM Treaty, to slow down for a time the creation of new types of weapons that are under development or still in the minds of scientists and engineers. In fact, many Western scientists express doubt about the effectiveness and strategic expediency of such new weapons. Reagan was ready to accept almost all Soviet suggestions but he was not ready to make concessions on SDI. If he had known about the Soviet package beforehand, he would probably have refused to come to Reykjavik.

From the point of view of propaganda outside the United States, Reagan's position looks weaker. But the problem of survival of humanity is too serious to be judged from the viewpoint of propaganda. Reagan is getting ready to break or cancel that termless ABM Treaty signed in 1972 by President Richard M. Nixon and which contains clear words: "Each party undertakes not to develop, test or deploy ABM systems or components which are sea-based, air-based or mobile land-based." But the world is getting accustomed to breaking and cancellation of treaties that have become disadvantageous to one country or another. The Soviet Union is no exception.

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